Jason Feldman ’18 won top honors this past week at the nation’s largest annual event in the burgeoning field of sports analytics by creating a new weapon for pro basketball teams, including those whose owners and general managers were at the conference.
Feldman topped Ivy League students to win the hackathon at the 12th Annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. It is the premiere venue in that industry, drawing as many sports data nerds as pro team executives from all sports and, this year, former President Obama.
Feldman won by focusing on, well, failure.
Feldman crunched coordinates of missed shots by the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets to create a player-by-player, quarter-by-quarter analytics “story” that could be used to preview a hypothetical series between the two teams.
“I looked at where guys missed,” said Feldman, a senior math major and data science minor. “Okay, you missed, but where on the rim did you miss? Did you miss long, or short, or left, or right? How did you miss, and what can we learn from that?”
This year’s conference drew 3,500 participants from 35 countries and nearly every state, according to MIT. More than 200 universities and 600 companies were represented in a combination of trade-show booths, celebrity panels–including Obama’s off-the-record talk–and competitions.
In the hackathon, participants analyze data and propose potential solutions that demonstrate a new way to use data analysis and visualization in sports analytics. Entrants present their work to a panel of judges, and a winner is selected after finalists present yet again.
Sports data is becoming more available, and more complex. With the theme “Storytelling with Data” in mind, participants dug into dense NBA player tracking data to tell a novel story and answer a question that had not previously been answered from a quantitative perspective.
Feldman won’t be surprised to see applications of his idea pop up soon in sports stats on ESPN, one of the hackathon’s sponsors.
“One of the judges said to him, ‘No one in the NBA had thought of this, but they will all be using it now,’” said Professor of Mathematics Tim Chartier.
In the meantime, Feldman claimed a grand prize of $500 in gift cards from Ticketmaster, the hackathon's other sponsor.
Chartier is the faculty force behind Cats Stats, a student-driven sports data analytics group that grew out of his work in "bracketology"–methods Chartier developed in concert with students to assist college basketball fans to predict the elusive perfect NCAA tournament bracket. Chartier and his students now have worked with the NBA league office, two fantasy draft sites, and five professional NBA, NFL and NASCAR teams. Students have interned with professional teams, the WNBA, STATS LLC, and a wide variety of data analytics companies, and Cats Stats alumni have worked in the NBA, MLB, NASCAR and for companies including Red Ventures, Tresata and Epic.
Research collaborations and programs like Cats Stats offer students experience that strengthens and expands the broad, transferable skills they gain in the classroom, better preparing them for a rapidly shifting economy.
Feldman joined Cats Stats as a freshman. It was Davidson's first year in the A-10 conference, and Cats Stats rode the wave to coverage by the New York Times, NPR and statistical prognosticator Nate Silver's Five Thirty-Eight website. Silver was a featured guest this year at "Sloan," as it's known, alongside team owners, general managers and other business-and-sports world luminaries among the conference's attendees.
Feldman's work with Cats Stats led to a summer job with the German national basketball team and a part-time job with the Charlotte Hornets. He took a semester off during his junior year to work full-time for the Carolina Panthers. Even when he was studying abroad, Feldman contributed creative, innovative ideas to Cats Stats from Valencia, Spain.
"He's had an enormous impact on sports analytics at Davidson and the work we do with professional teams," Chartier said. "I so appreciate him as a collaborator."
Pro teams in three different sports want to bring Feldman on to collaborate professionally with their franchises after he graduates from Davidson this spring. He's crunching the numbers.
Read more about Cats Stats, bracketology and Feldman in "Professor-Student Bracketology Collaborations Lead to Jobs, Internships, New Research."